MacArthur Fellows Program

Joaquin Avila

Voting Rights Advocate | Class of 1996

Voting Rights Advocate
Fremont, California
48 at time of award
March 9, 2018
Published July 1, 1996

About Joaquin's Work

Joaquin Avila is a litigator and an advocate in the specialized field of voting rights law.

Avila has devoted his career to a vision of voting rights advocacy that is premised on the conviction that government functions best if it is reflective and representative of the range of its constituents.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 codified and articulated legal strictures that prevent government officials and private citizens from interfering with the rights of minority citizens to vote and to choose their representatives.  Through meticulously crafted legal suits, Avila challenges election systems that function to disenfranchise and discriminate against minority voters and their chosen candidates.


Avila is a visiting assistant professor of law at the Seattle University School of Law.  He has also worked in a private practice devoted exclusively to the protection of the voting rights of racial and ethnic minority communities.  He served as staff attorney (1974-1976), director of political access litigation and associate counsel (1976-78), and president and general counsel (1982-1985) of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Avila received a B.A. (1970) from Yale University and a J.D. (1973) from the Harvard University Law School.  He is a member of the California and Texas State bars.

Last updated January 1, 2005

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